Paradigms of the Baroque: The Art of Italy and the Dutch Golden Age

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Paradigms of the Baroque: The Art of Italy and the Dutch Golden Age

<p>Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Baroque art of Italy in the south of Europe reflected the patronage of the Catholic Church. Whilst it was extremely important to Italian


Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Baroque art of Italy in the south of Europe reflected the patronage of the Catholic Church. Whilst it was extremely important to Italian society, it also influenced other parts of Europe. In parallel, the Dutch Golden Age was at its zenith and was influenced by, and at the same time, rejected many Italian traditions. In this series, two art historians who specialise in Italian and Dutch art respectively have joined together to present this course, to compare and contrast the arts as they developed in the North and South of Europe, during the Baroque period. The course will focus on paintings of History, Genre, Portraiture, Landscape and Still life. We will end with an analysis of the decorative arts and the economic, social and cultural worlds of artists in both regions.


  • Francis Haskel, Patrons and Painters: A Study in the Relations Between Italian Art and Society in the Age of the Baroque, Revised and Enlarged Edition (Yale Univeristy Press, 1986).
  • Richard Spear and Philip Sohm, ed., Painting for Profit: The Economic Lives of Seventeenth-Century Italian Painters (Yale University Press, 2010).
  • Giovan Pietro Bellori: The Lives of the Modern Painters, Sculptors and Architects: A New Translation and Critical Edition, trans. Alice Wohl, ed., Helmut Wohl and Tommaso Montanari (Cambridge University Press, 2005).
  • Ian A. C. Dejardin, The Dutch Italianates: 17th Century Masterpieces from Dulwich Picture Gallery, London (Philip Wilson Publishers, 2008).
  • Gerdien Wuestman, Rembrandt & the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from the Rijksmuseum, (Art Gallery of NSW, 2017)
  • Mariet Westermann, The Art of the Dutch Republic, 1585-1717, ( Lawrence King Publishing, 1996)
  • Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches, (Vintage, 1997)
  • Jeroen Giltaij and Ronald de Leeuw, The Dutch Golden Age Book, (Waanders Publishers, Zwolle, 2004)

Week 1: History Painting

  • Italy – Dominique Millar: What is a history painting? To begin to answer this question, we will look at the origin of historical, mythological and legendary subjects within the surviving wall paintings and written accounts of classical antiquity. We will then examine how ways of visually narrating the past, or storytelling, were appropriated from antiquity and reconceived within the Italian Renaissance. This will be examined in the context of the humanist, Leon Battista Alberti’s notion of what he termed as an istoria – a mode of narrated painting, described as being the most ambitious a painter could undertake – in his pioneering 1435 treatise on painting, De pictura. It is from this context that we will then examine the highly innovative and original work of the painter, Caravaggio, an artist whose overt naturalism and bold use of light and dark effects revolutionised the art of the period. We will conclude with an examination of the followers of Caravaggio – the Caravaggisti – and their role in dispersing the style of Caravaggio beyond the confines of Rome and into Europe more broadly.
  • Netherlands – Anne Harbers: Influenced by the Italian painter Caravaggio, a group of Dutch artists from the Catholic city of Utrecht became known as The Utrecht Caravaggisti. A leading figure within this group was the painter, Gerrit van Honthorst. In 1616, Honthorst went to Italy, where he stayed for ten years in the company of many other Dutch artists living in the city of Rome. Honthorst was a leading figure in introducing Caravaggio’s tenebrist style of painting into Dutch art. This style, characterized by its dramatic contrasts of light juxtaposed with dark shadows, would prove influential upon the young Rembrandt.

Week 2: Genre Painting

  • Netherlands – Anne Harbers: A middling class interior depicting a woman quietly contemplating the contents of a letter by Johannes Vermeer, or a rowdy and boisterous table scene by Jan Steen, evoke so much of what we quintessentially associate with the art of the Netherlands in the seventeenth century. With the emergence of Dutch Protestantism in the sixteenth century and the rise of an economically robust Merchant class, the Dutch were attracted to a visual vocabulary that clearly reflected their identity – their homes and their belongings, in a calm, ordered and tranquil way – home and family – well run and prosperous. The genre paintings of the Dutch Golden Age are definitive of what has come to be termed Dutch Realism. Not only do these works exhibit the highest degree of technical facility and empirical subtlety, they are also an historical window into the social mores and identity of the age.
  • Italy – Dominque Millar Prior to the seventeenth century in Italy, scenes of everyday life might appear in a subsidiary role within more conventional religious works of art. More overt instances of everyday life could also appear as the setting for biblical events or the lives of the saints, as a means of further reinforcing the immediacy of the subject’s relevance upon both a contemporary and local audience. In the mid-to-late sixteenth century, we see the emergence of the depictions of market scenes and shopfronts. This is followed in c. 1600, by the innovative works of Caravaggio and his colourful depictions of contemporary Roman card players and fortune tellers. Yet we shall see that it was not until the arrival in Rome, in the 1620s, of a group of mostly Dutch and Flemish artists, nicknamed the Bamboccianti – meaning the “ugly puppet” - after one of their most prominent members, Peter van Laer, who was said to have unusually long legs, a short chest and almost no neck (!), that the existing traditions for depicting peasant subjects from Netherlandish art was reconfigured within the context of contemporary seventeenth century Roman life. We will conclude by observing the influence of the Bamboccianti on the career of the Bolognese painter, Giuseppe Maria Crespi. Crespi became one the leading proponents of baroque genre painting in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, with his raw and often comical depictions of everyday life.

Week Three: Portraiture

  • Italy – Dominique Millar: We will examine how portraiture evolved and developed in Italy from the beginning of the Renaissance through to the seventeenth century. We will observe the origins of the genre within the evolution of the donor portrait. These portraits were embedded within a work of art commissioned by an individual for a private chapel or public church setting. We will also observe how conventions in portraiture evolved from the largely inanimate depictions of busts in profile, derivative of Roman coins, to the full-figure portraits of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. From this broader context, we will address questions regarding the identity of the sitters and the social function of the portrait within early-modern Italy.
  • Netherlands – Anne Harbers: In this lecture we will focus on three seventeenth century painters of portraits, Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Vermeer. These three artists had significantly different styles – from the historical narrative drama of Rembrandt, to the large group portraits of the Militia companies of Hals, to the unknown sitters of Vermeer, such as the Girl with a Pearl Earring. Portraiture within seventeenth century Holland will be shown to have exhibited a variety of functions.

Week Four: Landscape

  • Netherlands – Anne Harbers: The low lying landscape of the Netherlands became a popular genre of painting for Dutch artists of the seventeenth century. In this lecture, we will examine the connection of the Dutch to their land, waterways, canals and the open seas in the age of European expansion. We will examine popular landscape genres, such as the Winterscapes that depicted people enjoying the frozen canals and ice fairs of the period. We will look at the high demand for seascapes portraying the Dutch navy fleet and merchant ships that visually epitomised the Dutch Republic’s vast colonial empire and dominance of world trade. Finally, we will also see how Italianate landscapes could appear in the backgrounds of many Dutch paintings, reflecting the pastoral ideal of the Roman poet Virgil, while being derivative of a contemporaneous landscape tradition, with its origins in the Roman Campagna.
  • Italy – Dominique Millar We will observe the subsidiary role played by landscape in Italian art prior to the sixteenth century, followed by the greater primacy it later gained within the art of Venetian painters such as Bellini, Giorgione and Titian. We will then see how an interest in landscape was broadened, with the narrative of a picture becoming more intrinsically embedded within the landscape scenes of two artists working in Venice and Padua, Domenico Campagnola and the Dutch painter, Lambert Sustris. We will also examine how the primacy of landscape moved south to Rome, as evident in the innovative works of Girolamo Muziano, Paul Bril, Federico Zuccaro, and Annibale Carracci. We will conclude with an analysis of artists across Europe, who came to Rome in the seventeenth century and produced classically inspired landscape paintings of the Roman Campagna (countryside).

Week Five: Still Life

  • Italy – Dominique Millar: We will look at some of the precursors to western still life painting in surviving wall paintings and the anecdotal written accounts of classical antiquity. We will then see how trompe l’oeil still life was used in the works of the late fifteenth century Venetian painters, Vittorio Carpaccio and Jacopo de' Barbari. We will then examine how early Italian sixteenth century genre paintings by the Bolognese painters, Bartolomeo Passeroti, Annibale Carracci and the Cremonese Campi brothers, depicted butcher shops, kitchen scenes or town markets, in ways that gave a tangible prominence to the everyday objects of conventional trades and their produce. We will then look at the still life paintings of the female Milanese painter, Fede Galizia, in relation to the contemporaneous works of Caravaggio in Rome. We will also examine the often overlooked late still life paintings of the Florentine painter, Jacopo da Empoli. Finally, we will end with the career of the female painter of still lives, Giovanna Garzoni, who was a favourite at the Medici court in the mid-seventeenth century.
  • Netherlands – Anne Harbers: The Dutch love of tulips is well known but this extended to a love of flowers that was reflected in the huge popularity of the flower painters of the Dutch Golden Age which some scholars have deduced as symbolic of religious ideals. Dutch Still life painting often reflected the wealth of the Dutch Republic, with many images of abundance and good living. The art form could also encapsulate simple scenes of game and fish, to elaborate banquet paintings, with items and foods that tell a story of Dutch trade and colonial expansion.

Week Six:

  • The Decorative Arts in the Dutch Golden Age – Anne Harbers: The richness of the Dutch Golden Age was also reflected in the decorative arts. The Netherlands produced skilled craftspeople in ceramics, glass, silver and gold. Miniature silver items as well as furniture were made by leading artisans to decorate the poppenhuisen (Doll’s house art cabinets) of the rich ladies of society. Amsterdam as a busy trading port also served to bring items from across the seas that were incorporated into rich decorative pieces.
  • Contrasting the Economic, Social and Cultural Worlds of Seventeenth Century Italian and Dutch Artists – Dominqie Millar: This lecture will aim to compare and contrast the world of the artists working in the Netherlands to that of Rome. In the Netherlands, Dutch painters could often be artist-dealers, who worked in the art market as a means of supporting themselves. Independent art dealership also grew dramatically, with dealers often commissioning works from artists in advance, resulting in a steady supply to keep in step with demand. The art of Netherlands also became highly specialised with artists building careers in specific genres to satisfy the market. By contrast with the Papacy, Cardinals and their courtiers defined and set the tone for the Roman art market. A kind of patronage known as ‘servitu particolare’ was common, where an artist would take residence in a patron’s home.

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Have an enhanced awareness of the key artists of the Italian Baroque and the Dutch Golden Age.
  2. Recognise the major genres of the Italian Baroque and Dutch Golden Age.
  3. Have an understanding of the economic and social influences on this major period of outstanding visual cultural output.
  4. Identify and provide some self- analysis to the paintings and styles of the Italian Baroque and Dutch Golden Age.